One side of the workfare desk: a history of the Jobs, Education and Training Program in the political economy of Australian 'welfare reform' (1989-2006)

Banks, M 2011, One side of the workfare desk: a history of the Jobs, Education and Training Program in the political economy of Australian 'welfare reform' (1989-2006), Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Global Studies, Social Science and Planning, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title One side of the workfare desk: a history of the Jobs, Education and Training Program in the political economy of Australian 'welfare reform' (1989-2006)
Author(s) Banks, M
Year 2011
Abstract The thesis revives the historical importance of a small, relatively obscure Australian workfare policy through a marxist theoretical framework that is equally marginal to Australian social policy analytics. The Jobs, Education and Training Program (JET) was a first-wave Active Society social welfare policy introduced by the Hawke Labor government in 1989. JET holds the peculiar distinction of being the only voluntary mass workfare program in Australian history. JET not only affected the lives of close to one million people, mainly single mothers and their children, but played a key role in fundamentally restructuring Australian welfare production. During the late 1990s state managers saw in the emotional and affective labour of JET workers an institutional opportunity to reconfigure frontline welfare labour processes into the neoliberal, ‘customer service’ model now adopted by Centrelink. How did JET, ‘the best social justice policy Social Security ever had’ turn into a compulsory mass workfare template for current state social reproduction policy?

This first historical appraisal of JET adopts what Perry Anderson has termed marxism’s ‘classical tradition’ to ask: how might a marxist analysis of the Jobs, Education and Training program (1989-2006) explain its character and demise in the context of an historical critique of the Australian 'welfare reform agenda'? State social reproduction relations in economically advanced countries have become a crucial and growing aspect of the accumulation dynamics of national capitals. The thesis aligns with the progressive intent of those who argue that top-down and bottom-up policy implementation is in political tension, but replaces Lipsky’s liberal rendering of this tension with an historical materialist critique of policy production. In the interviews of JET workers and policy managers conducted for this research, a capacity to elicit the material and social underpinnings from what is being said comes through a particular application of the theoretical insights offered by the Bakhtin circle and Marx’s critique of capitalist ideology.

With the more explicit ideological acceptance of neoliberalism in the 1990s, welfare policies and state organisations were structured to more openly meet the social reproduction strategies of the period. The ‘strenuous welfarism’ of compulsory workfare for the majority of welfare recipients on one side of the Centrelink counter had its corollary on the other. The emotional and affective labour-readying work, once only conducted by JET Advisers, was added to the technical payment process activities of Centrelink frontline staff. The broadening of workfare reduced and generalised this work into a labour-forcing process.

Three political conclusions are drawn. Firstly, that workfare and industrial relations policies are connected aspects of a neoliberal ideology which principally aims to increase capital accumulation. Secondly, effective opposition to workfare needs to rid itself of the debilitating assumption that these are welfare arrangements rather than primarily programs designed to produce consumable labour power for capital. Thirdly, that only by reinvigorating the social and labour movements will such an effective opposition emerge capable of challenging the welfare and industrial straightjackets neoliberalism is currently imposing.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Global Studies, Social Science and Planning
Keyword(s) Welfare reform
social policy
strenuous welfarism
JET Program
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Created: Thu, 26 Apr 2012, 16:50:44 EST by Guy Aron
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